Some doctors warn against using a drug meant to treat type 2 diabetes for weight loss, after some patients said it helped them lose a few pounds.
Approved by the FDA in 2017, the diabetes treatment sold under the name Ozempic helps lower blood sugar, but according to Fox 35 Orlando, many patients prescribed the drug reported weight loss as a positive side effect.
People without diabetes became interested in using the medication for weight loss after news of its perceived benefits made the rounds on the social media platform TikTok.
“You definitely reduce your appetite, and you feel full pretty much all the time, and you don’t really crave sugar because you don’t get the sugar high or low,” sports orthopedic surgeon Dr. Richard Lehman on Fox 35.
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In 2021, the drug was approved by the FDA under the name Wegovy to help eligible obese patients lose weight. Those seeking treatment were required to have a BMI over 27 with at least one weight-related condition or those with a BMI over 30.
According to the FDA, the largest clinical study found that people taking Wegovy lost an average of nearly 13% of their initial body weight.
The FDA’s findings have led people to look for a quick way to lose a few pounds only to find doctors willing to prescribe the drug “off-label,” meaning it’s used for a condition other than that for which it is approved.
“It’s as close to the magic weight loss we have now,” said Lehman, who has prescribed the drug to his athletes to help them lose a few pounds. “These athletes started losing weight within 7 to 10 days. You can’t eat as much as you want and not exercise. You have to follow the regimen.”
Doctors warn that the benefits may be short-lived, especially if the patient has an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, or health education.
“They get something, and they’re promised it will work. And sometimes it will work because they believe it will. But what’s going to happen next? You can’t do drugs for the rest of your life,” said Jeremy Avner , co-owner of Nuvia Medical Weight Loss Clinic in Lake Mary, Florida.
Avner’s clinic prescribes the drug to some of his patients.
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One patient, who remained anonymous, told Fox 35 that she receives an injection once a week and has lost 20 pounds in eight weeks. She said she had never tried anything so effective.
“I have to buy new clothes and everyone at work comes up to me and tells me how good I look,” she told the outlet.
Dr. Ben Kaplan, a primary care physician at Orlando Health who treats patients with diabetes and obesity, said the drug is intended to help high-risk patients lose weight. He emphasized that it is not for people outside that group who want to lose pounds here and there.
“Patients who use these drugs off-label, for misuse, say recreational purposes, do so at their own risk,” Kaplan said, calling it a “buyer beware type scenario.”
Other side effects include pancreatitis, gastrointestinal problems, and gallbladder problems.
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“I’m definitely more in favor of patients who want to lose weight to sit down with a dietitian, an exercise physiologist, do things the right way. And then if they don’t make it to that first therapy, then you can have a discussion about medication help with weight loss,” Kaplan said.
The injection, if given once or twice a week, could cost between $500 and $700 per visit, according to Lehman.
Ultimately, the price will vary from clinic to clinic. Insurance may be able to reduce costs for those who qualify for the medication.